Further info and resources from my website

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Of cars and HR software: Metaphor-based HRIS tips

Remember that great song "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" from that wittiest of musicals, My Fair Lady? Well, for the past couple of decades that I have been in the HR technology industry, I have been asking myself a similar question: Why can't my HR software be like a car? Throughout my career I have peppered my articles, presentations and meetings with car metaphors to drive the various points I was trying to make. (Here's the scene from the 1964 movie with Rex Harrison singing, well more like uttering, the song.)

You'll find hereafter some of the most frequent ones. Note that most would apply to enterprise software, not HR only; however, since I am an HR technology person through and through, you'll hardly be surprised that's my focus.

System Evaluation
This is the oldest car-metaphor case I can recall, having used it for at least 20 years. In the latest 1990s when I started out as an HR system analyst-cum-consultant spending most of my time advising French companies on which HR system to select, I would use this metaphor quite often. Actually so much that I put it early on in my book, High-Tech Planet. Here's the relevant excerpt of the metaphor which I still use to warn my clients off including ever single product specification whim that might cross their mind just because "it can be useful."

Having four wheels on a car rooftop is certainly useful in case the car were to turn over; but since no car maker offers that, it would be a waste of time to include that feature in a list of requirements, especially when every business process is now available in a computer system developed, sold and serviced by countless companies. Delphi Tech was one of such companies. Actually, it was more than just one of them. It was the biggest, the largest, the best-known one: indeed, as Dick claimed, Delphi had to a large extent created the business of corporate software, or at least contributed to its development. It was, as Dick would say, the Rolls-Royce of computer systems.  (High-Tech Planet: Secrets of  an IT Road Warrior, 2010 edition, p. 3.)

I also warn against using SIs (system implementers) as selection advisors for obvious reasons: SIs tend to focus on one or two systems; many, especially the boutique ones, are actually one-trick ponies. If you only have experience driving one or two cars, you will only recommend those ones. Or using research firms like Gartner who have limited, if any, HRIS implementation experience. This is like recommending a car based on several great features, but forgetting to ask the prospective buyer whether they can drive.

And beware overkill: When famed French soccer club Paris-Saint-Germain bought Workday, considering their small headcount and limited resources, it was clearly like buying a huge bus just for you, your wife and your two kids. Or like buying a Lamborghini to avoid walking on your driveway to your mailbox and back.

Finally, I strongly advise against falling for what I call the "critical capabilities" trap. If you only focus on these, you are likely to overlook other useful aspects and not be able to really pick the system that is best for you. Such an approach is as smart as when buying  a car to look only at the number of wheels and car paint. Three cars can all have the same features (tires, automatic transmission, air conditioning), but when you use them you will know which one is better. 

Product Design
As someone who spent a big chunk of his career in product strategy and management roles (at PeopleSoft and Fidelity Investments' HR Access) I am still amazed at how HR system  vendors make a point to diverge on fundamental design choices. If SAP decides that one process will require different screens, you can be sure that Oracle would prefer to have just one screen (albeit a long one obliging the user to scroll down endlessly) while Workday would probably prefer to have several tabs on the same screen. This can be very confusing for users who, as part of their daily HR tasks, have to toggle back and forth between several HR applications. Wouldn't it be nice if they were all designed along similar lines? 

Just imagine that if Ford puts the brake pedal to the left of the accelerator, so Renault puts it to the right. If BMW  uses a steering wheel to enable the driver to move the front wheels, so everyone else must use levers and sticks and chains. T
here would be almost no learning-curve effects either from a manufacturing or a usability perspective. And yet, HR software vendors do exactly that, which is quite insane, especially when you know that the musical-chairs game so prevalent among software executives means it's basically the same folks who oversee products across companies. 

Change Management
What many end-user companies are still grappling with as part of their new HR system implementations, especially in the cloud, is the right mix between configuration and training which now goes by the fancy name of change management. As I often tell my client, redoing you car's body and changing the engine would be of little use if the driver is incompetent. If you never learned to drive, buy a BMW and then crash it into a wall , how is that the car maker's fault? 

And when a client insists on implementing the same inadequate process again and again, I warn them against reinventing the flat tire.

HR System Implementation
There are many companies that in their move to cloud HR adopted the approach whereby they start with the low-hanging fruit of talent modules before, like an afterthought, implementing Core HR. More often than not, the added complexity doesn't make up for the lower risk. Core HR is your HRIS engine, without it your global HRIS simply won’t work. It is like trying to drive without a steering wheel: you’re not going to go far.

Discussing the Implementation phase one is often reminded that the Design phase seems never to have been closed since users will always try until the very last moment (and even after!) to change the design. This is very dangerous and akin to changing the tyre while driving the car: recipe for disaster.

Another maddening aspect of requirements is that companies often come up with contradictory requirements. Imagine that you're driving a car and when you arrive at a crossroads you ask for instructions, "left or right?" "Both," is the answer you get. 

Cloud/SaaS HR for the dummies
Surprising as it may seem, there are still many corporate executives involved in on-premise-to-cloud transition projects who are still struggling with the cloud concept. This is where I probably make the most of the car metaphor. Starting at the evaluation stage, I warn my clients about  dinosaur vendors like Oracle who try to make us believe that they can tweak on-premise PeopleSoft into a cloud offering. It's like saying that if you affix wings to a car and add  a pointed nose along with powerful reactors, and find a way to hide the wheels, you can turn a car into a plane. It just won't fly - in more sense than one.  

Or putting a new body on a  30-year car. Would you fall for that?

If you still decide to take the risk to adopt half-baked products, then be prepared to fork out the funds needed to have onboard several consultants for a long period of time and whose function will be to fix the inevitable bugs and issues that are bound to arise. Remember that when the first automobiles came, owners needed to hire a mechanic full-time because those first cars had a bad habit of always breaking down.

For those who can't wrap their head around capex and opex (that's capital and operation expenditure to you) I explain that Saas is like leasing a car versus buying it. When they compare that with the millions they used to pay upfront just for the honor of being an SAP or Oracle customer, these executives' eyes brighten up immediately.

One car metaphor I used a lot when the cloud model arrived, and less so now as the cloud has gone mainstream, aimed at helping users to understand the key difference between traditional ERP (on-premise) and the cloud (SaaS based.) In order to convince the pro-ERP camp I explained to them they can't stop progress.  When automobiles arrived, they coexisted for a while with horse-drawn carriages before these got ditched because everybody saw that cars were faster and more practical. As an early advocate of the cloud model, against Oracle's (in)famous scorning of the cloud, I am glad to see that I eventually was vindicated by the market. (See my Jan. 2011 article, "Can software dinosaurs reinvent themselves as cloud-based vendors?")

One concept that, surprise, surprise, dinosaur vendors  try to push is the hybrid system of on-premise + SaaS system supposed to work in perfect harmony like hybrid cars. I debunk it by pointing that it's like saying, "Oh you don’t like the engine in your car, no problem, we can remove it for you and attach the car to two horses instead." Really!

Another fallacy about hybrid HR systems is that customers are led to believe that it's the best of two worlds. Come on! Will you really buy half of a Porsche and couple it with half of a Ferrari? 

SaaS, a relatively new concept,  is often confused with BPO (outsourcing the full process, be it payroll or recruiting.) When a client tells me they are not sure whether they should move to a SaaS  vendor or a BPO one, I tell them they are mixing things: First of all, you have to analyze and make a decision whether you want to run your full process inhouse or out. And only then can you decide, if inhouse, whether Saas or on-premise; and, if outsourced, then what vendor. In car terms, it is like saying, " I’m tired, I can’t walk to work, so I’ll invest in either a bike or a car." Well, they are two different tings, you should be either comparing bike/motorbike or motor bike/car but a bike vs. a car doesn't make sense. Like the proverbial apples and oranges.

Of second-hand cars
Of  course, no car metaphor would be complete without the time-honored used-car example. When Oracle provides its prospects with heavy discounts to adopt Fusion, I remind them that you get what you pay for: If the price of a second-hand car ("used car" to most Americans) is too good to be true, it's probably because it is neither good nor trueAlso, you buy a second-hand car if  you’re a good mechanic (in HR technology words, you have enough in-house skilled resources), because then you can fix it. Otherwise, you’re on your own: Compare this with the first-automobile and mechanic metaphor a couple of paragraphs before.

I could spend gazillions of pixels and tire your eyes out of their sockets decrying software sales tactics (the object of my aforementioned book.) One particular tactic which I recently saw  on a global HRIS project with payroll outsourcer ADP was when the vendor stated they were willing to bid with SAP SuccessFactors Core HR (Employee Central) but on the condition that my client bought two payrolls from ADP. 
I shot back at them, "How would feel if your car dealer offered to sell you a car only if you accepted to also buy two bikes?"

Vendor Management
Despite the Buyer Beware motto, customers  are entitled to escalate issues, especially when a promised feature is not working as touted in sales demos - or, worse, is not available. However, I find it misguided from some customers to focus on minor issues while not seeing the bigger picture. It is akin to buying a car that is  bigger, nicer and faster and yet spend an inordinate amount of time on small imperfections. As in life in general, you should choose your battles wisely: know which ones are worth fighting, and which ones should not be launched.


This is the latest in an HRIS Selection & Implementation Tips series. Previous posts included:
- April 2018: Cloud HR Implementation Tips: Focus on Migration
- Jan. 2016:  Pricing and Contracting with Your Cloud Vendor: Tips and Tricks
- Jan.2013:  An HR leader's Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

(The fact that the blogger-analyst-consultant has been spending the better part of the last year and a half on implementing a new global HRIS for one of the world's largest car makers is obviously a cute coincidence, since I have been using these metaphors for two decades now.)

No comments:

Post a Comment